Plans are afoot to relocate the capital of Indonesia, as a drastic solution to reports that the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta, already plagued by choking traffic jams, is also sinking.
The mega-city of 13 million is located on Indonesia’s central island of Java, which hosts almost 60 per cent of the nation’s population of 257 million, making it the most populated island on earth.
The Australian newspaper first reported that plans to uproot the capital were being considered to avoid total traffic gridlock by 2020.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently added that President Joko Widodo had asked the National Development Planning Agency to carry out a feasibility study on possible locations, citing Palangkaraya on the island of Borneo as a possible option.
“It is not automatically Palangkaraya, but we will look at several alternatives and also set some criteria,” the agency’s chief Bambang Brodjonegoro told the paper.
Debate about relocating the capital have frequently resurfaced since it was first mooted by President Suharto in 1957, in what was believed to be a move to cut ties with Jakarta’s Dutch colonial past.
The overcrowded city’s problems have since become more practical and less ideological, with reports that areas of north Jakarta are sinking at a rate of 25cm a year.
Planners are said to be looking at two options. Either to only move the administrative part of the city, similar to Malaysia’s solution of shifting its federal institutions out of Kuala Lumpur to the planned city of Putrajaya, or to move the entire capital itself.
The idea has several global precedents.
In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the more centrally located Brasilia. In 2005, Burma’s secretive military junta suddenly moved the capital 200 miles north of Rangoon, to Naypyidaw.
“The intention behind it is understandable,” said Rainer Heufers, Executive Director of the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies, and who lives and works in Jakarta.
Jakarta’s streets were so clogged that it was only possible to plan for one meeting in the morning and one in the afternoon, he told The Telegraph.
“It would obviously cost a lot of money and civil society is very suspicious when the government spends money on itself, building new ministries, maybe even a parliament. So there would be watchdogs looking at how big the parliament is,” he said. “So choosing it and thinking about moving is one thing, but actually doing it and getting the funds is a second. We’ll believe it when we see it.”